European Court’s Murat Sabuncu, Ahmet Şık judgments become final; İnci Aydın acquitted at her second hearing; RTÜK fines KRT TV, Halk TV; Turkey ranks 153rd among 180 countries in 2021 World Press Freedom Index
Trial against 22 journalists arrested in Özgür Gündem raid to continue in July
The trial against 22 journalists arrested during the 2016 police raid on Özgür Gündem newspaper resumed on 22 April 2021 at the Istanbul 5th Criminal Court of First Instance. The journalists are charged with “preventing police officers from performing their duties” under Article 265 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and “insult” (TCK 125).
P24 monitored the hearing, where none of the journalists on trial were in attendance. They were represented by their lawyers.
Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court decided to separate the file against Amine Demirkan, Bayram Balcı, Ersin Çaksu and Günay Aksoy, who are facing arrest warrants as part of the trial, and to send the case file to the prosecutor's office for their final opinion. The court set 1 July as the date for the next hearing.
Mehmet Altan’s compensation claim partially accepted
The sixth hearing of the compensation case filed by journalist, writer and academic Mehmet Altan over his wrongful imprisonment lasting nearly two years as part of the "Altans trial,” where he was eventually acquitted, was held on 22 April 2021.
The Anadolu 11th High Criminal Court issued its judgment at the end of the hearing, ruling to partially accept and partially reject Altan’s compensation claim.
RTÜK fines KRT TV, Halk TV
The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) imposed administrative fines on opposition TV channels KRT TV and Halk TV over remarks by two program guests.
KRT was given a maximum fine for CHP MP Engin Özkoç’s remarks about President Erdoğan during a recent episode of the political talk show “Şimdiki Zaman” while Halk TV was fined because Afşin Hatipoğlu, a lawyer and KRT TV programmer, allegedly made “defamatory remarks about MHP” during a news show where he was featured as guest.
Erdoğan’s lawyer objects to Akpınar and Gezen’s acquittal in “insult” case
The Anadolu 8th Criminal Court of First Instance has issued its reasoned judgement in the case against actors Metin Akpınar and Müjdat Gezen, who were recently acquitted of “insulting the president” (TCK 299). Akpınar and Gezen were charged over televised remarks they made in a talk show that aired in December 2018 on Halk TV. The court wrote in the reasoned judgment that Gezen and Akpınar’s comments were not of a defamatory nature.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s lawyer objected to the acquittal judgment, claiming in the objection petition that the two actors were “feeling hostile towards the president.”
Journalist İnci Aydın acquitted in “propaganda” trial
The second hearing of Yeni Yaşam newspaper Responsible Managing Editor İnci Aydın’s trial on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” over an article published in the newspaper in July 2020 was held on 20 April 2021 at the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court.
P24 monitored the hearing, where Aydın did not attend. Addressing the court for Aydın’s defense statement, lawyers Özcan Kılıç and Sercan Korkmaz asserted that the elements of the alleged offense were not present and that their client should be acquitted. Issuing its judgment at the end of the hearing, the court acquitted Aydın because the elements of the alleged offense did not occur.
Trial of former TV10 employees adjourned until September
The trial of former TV10 staff members Kemal Demir and Kemal Karagöz on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” resumed on 20 April 2021 at the 28th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. TV10 is one of at least 23 stations closed down through statutory decrees (KHK) by the government in 2016.
Demir and Karagöz did not attend the hearing, where their lawyers were in attendance.
Issuing an interim ruling, the court ordered the continuation of the international travel ban imposed on Demir and Karagöz and decided to wait for the execution of the arrest warrant for witness Şükrü Yıldız. The court set 9 September 2021 as the date for the next hearing.
Turkey ranks 153rd in 2021 World Press Freedom Index
Turkey ranked 153rd among 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, up one level from its position in last year’s list. The list is compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“The index shows that journalism is completely or partly blocked in 73 percent of the 180 countries ranked by the organization,” RSF said.
Although the release of several jailed journalists based on “judicial reform” packages introduced by the government may have slightly “improved” Turkey’s score, “the risk of imprisonment and the fear of being subjected to judicial control or stripped of one’s passport is ever-present,” RSF said, stressing that in an environment where “90 percent of national media is controlled by the government” and “Internet censorship has reached unprecedented levels … questioning the authorities and the privileged is now almost impossible.”
European Court’s Murat Sabuncu, Ahmet Şık judgments become final
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments rendered in November 2020 concerning the applications of Ahmet Şık, Murat Sabuncu and nine other former executives and columnists of Cumhuriyet newspaper became final on 19 April 2021 as the journalists' requests to refer the two cases to the Grand Chamber were rejected.
Lawyers representing the journalists were seeking referral to the Grand Chamber because the Chamber judgments in both applications found no violation of Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In the case of Murat Sabuncu and Others v. Turkey, the European Court had unanimously held that the pre-trial detention of Cumhuriyet's former Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and columnists and executives Önder Çelik, Turhan Günay, Akın Atalay, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Kadri Gürsel, Hakan Kara, Musa Kart, Güray Öz and Bülent Utku in 2016 as part of the “Cumhuriyet trial” violated their right to liberty and security and freedom of expression. In its judgment concerning Ahmet Şık’s application, the Court had unanimously found a violation of the right to liberty and security while ruling by a majority that Şık's pre-trial detention as part of the “Cumhuriyet trial” violated his freedom of expression.
Genco Erkal questioned in “insulting the president” investigation
Veteran stage actor and director Genco Erkal (83) went to the Istanbul Courthouse on 19 April 2021 to give his statement to a public prosecutor from the press offences investigation bureau on the allegation of “insulting the president.”
The allegation stems from seven Twitter posts by Erkal. Five of the posts are from 2016 and two posts are from 2020. The investigation, which was launched in January, is based on a “tip-off” email sent to the Cyber Crimes Unit of the Police Department in 2016.
Three journalists arrested while covering protest in Istanbul
Özgür Gelecek reporter Taylan Özgür Öztaş, Mücadele Birliği reporter Serpil Ünal and Kızıl Bayrak reporter Kardelen Yoğungan were taken into custody on 19 April 2021 in Istanbul’s Avcılar district as they were covering a demonstration staged by workers of a local company who have been laid off for unionizing. A factory worker and a union representative were also detained.
Öztaş and Yoğungan were released the same day after giving their statements at the police station. Ünal remained in police custody due to an arrest warrant because she had failed to give her statement as part of a separate investigation. She was released the next day after her statement was taken.
Erol Mütercimler handed down 10-month suspended sentence
The third and final hearing of writer and political analyst Erol Mütercimler’s trial on the charge of “publicly degrading a section of the public on the grounds of social class, race, religion, sect, gender or regional differences” (TCK 216/1) was held on on 19 April 2021 in Istanbul.
Mütercimler and his lawyers were in attendance. Submitting their final opinion, the prosecutor demanded that Mütercimler be sentenced. After hearing Mütercimler and his lawyers’ statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion, the Istanbul 12th Criminal Court of First Instance issued its judgment, sentencing Mütercimler to 10 months in prison. The court suspended the sentence.
Mütercimler was accused over his remarks about graduates of Turkey’s Islamic “imam-hatip” schools during a political talk show on 7 September 2020.
Access to Mezopotamya news agency and JinNews blocked by court
Access to the website of Mezopotamya news agency (MA) was blocked by a decision of the Diyarbakır 3rd Criminal Judgeship of Peace, issued on 19 April 2021.
Access to the website of the all-female news agency JinNews was blocked twice in one week. The first decision was issued on 19 April 2021 by the Diyarbakır 5th Criminal Judgeship of Peace and the second one on 20 April by the Diyarbakır 2nd Criminal Judgeship of Peace.
At least 68 journalists and media workers in prison
As of 23 April 2021, at least 68 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence.
The full list can be accessed here.